n weightlifting, the athlete who successfully lifts the most weight within his weight class wins. Thus, it is generally beneficial to be both as light as possible and as strong as possible. A weightlifter can optimize performance by achieving a bodyweight that gives him maximum strength with minimal excess weight. There is no formula, however, for determining exactly which weight class is best for a weightlifter, and even established adult lifters may compete in a number of weight classes over the course of their weightlifting career.
What does this mean for children and adolescents?
Well, it’s a bit complicated.
First, children are growing. A child’s constantly changing body makes it much more difficult to determine his or her optimal weight class. In the course of one year, a child may move up one weight class—or he may move up three weight classes. If a child moves up three weight classes, but most of the weight gain is fat, he will not be competing at his optimal weight.
Second, BMI, or body mass index, may not be the best indicator of optimal weight for a young weightlifter. BMI is a calculation of a person’s weight in kilograms divided by the square of his height in meters. Although BMI is accurate for a large portion of the population, it is often inaccurate for weightlifters, who are heavier because they have more muscle mass.
Third, while an adult weightlifter may be willing to meticulously track food consumption to fit within a given weight class, children are not at all interested in doing this. Constantly monitoring food intake can eliminate the joy out of an otherwise fun sport—and cause a child to develop an unhealthy relationship with food.
Fourth, the primary focus for youth involved in weightlifting should be on developing good technique with a secondary focus on strength building.
So, should I ignore the weight class system and let my child compete at his current body weight?
Generally, yes. Your child will have plenty of time to settle into a weight class once he is fully grown. Until then, there is no need to emphasize body weight.
However, you can give your youth lifter a competitive advantage by helping him maintain a healthy weight. The following lifestyle changes can benefit your child in weightlifting and for years beyond:
- Swap the soda, juice, and sugary sports drinks for water. An 18-month trial involving 641 normal-weight children found that replacing sugary beverages with noncaloric beverages reduced weight gain and fat accumulation in the normal-weight children.1
- Keep your kitchen stocked with a variety of fruits and veggies. Fruits and vegetables are low in calories, contain a lot of fiber, and are a great source of vitamins and nutrients.
- Buy less prepackaged junk: Don’t prohibit your child from eating junk food—just don’t make it readily available. Your child will eat enough of it at parties, friends’ houses, and school.
- Eat at home as often as possible. It is easy to overeat at restaurants, with free drink refills and enormous portions. Avoid temptation—and save money—by eating more meals at home.
- Kick the fast food habit. When children eat fast food, they eat more food all day long. Researcher Shanthy A. Bowman, PhD, with the Department of Agricuture, conducted a study of the eating habits of 6,000 children and adolescents.2 Bowman found that fast-food eaters consumed 15% more calories than non-fast food eaters, or about 57 more calories per day. At that rate, a child would gain an extra 6 lbs per year—and that’s not 6 lbs of lean muscle!
- Plan ahead. If you know you’ll be out of the house all evening, pack some healthy snacks to avoid the temptation to feed out of the vending machine or at fast food joints.
- Set a good example. If you portray healthy eating as a miserable chore, your child will feel the same way about it. However, if you eat healthy foods with ernest enjoyment, your child will mirror your emotions.
In conclusion, there is no need to stress about fitting your child or adolescent into a particular weight class. However, you can give your youth weightlifter a competitive advantage by teaching him healthy habits that will contribute to an optimal body weight.
(1) de Ruyter JC, Olthof MR, Seidell JC, Katan MB. A trial of sugar-free or sugar-sweetened beverages and body weight in children. N Engl J Med. 2012;367:1397-406.
(2) Davis, Jeanie Lerche. “Fast Food Creates Fat Kids.” WebMD. January 5, 2004. Accessed April 04, 2017. http://www.webmd.com/parenting/news/20040105/fast-food-creates-fat-kids.